Coal Tattoo

Stalling on selenium — again

A bill introduced late this week in the West Virginia Legislature would give the coal industry more time — again — to comply with water quality limits for toxic selenium pollution.

green_mike.jpgSenate Bill 461 has 20 sponsors, including Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, and Energy, Industry and Mining Chairman Mike Green, D-Raleigh (who lists membership in Friends of Coal on his official biography, see photo at right).  After the bill was introduced on Thursday, it was referred to Green’s committee. Passage seems likely, since nine of the committee’s 13 members are sponsors of the bill.

The bill would give anyone holding a water pollution permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection — in this instance, coal companies — until July 1, 2012, to comply with water quality limits for selenium.

Recall that the coal industry and West Virginia regulators have been scrambling to find ways to avoid complying with these standards for years, since federal studies found dangerous levels of selenium runoff from mountaintop removal mines in Southern West Virginia.  A federal judge and the state Environmental Quality Board have both found that the industry has been stalling its efforts to stop selenium violations. (Also see Stalling on selenium?)

It’s also important to remember that the nation’s top expert on selenium pollution’s impacts on aquatic life, Dennis Lemly,  has warned that at least one West Virginia watershed, the Mud River, is “on the brink of a major toxic event” because of selenium pollution:

If waterborne selenium concentrations are not reduced, reproductive toxicity will spiral out of control and fish populations will collapse.

And thanks to Leon, whose comment on Coal Tattoo brought this bill to my attention.